Artistic Counter Poles of the Cultural Revolution. How was Art created and used in favour of or against the Cultural Revolution in China?

Term Paper, 2017

23 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. Historical background
2.1 The Great Leap Forward
2.2 The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

3. Artistic counter poles of the Cultural Revolution
3.1 Artworks by Artists or artist groups in favour of the Cultural Revolution
3.1.1 Impacts on art and artists that did not conform to revolutionary ideas
3.2 Artworks or artists against the Cultural Revolution
3.2.1 Scar art

4. Conclusion

5. Table of figures

6. Bibliographical references

1. Introduction

China's history counts to one of the world's oldest ones and is crucial to understand the Chinese culture and people. Many historic events, whether they are of a positive or negative nature, characterize the Chinese past and influence its present and future. One of the most relevant events in the Chinese history is marked by the Cultural Revolution, or also called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (Wuchanjieji Wenhua Dageming [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten], from 1966 until 1976. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was indeed a unique event in the Chinese history but also in the whole world. This revolution depicts one of the most radical and worst eras in the People's Republic of China. The great number of victims of several tens of thousands up to millions of people who have endured this dictatorship, show the cruel extend of the revolution. In this course of events, several artists and artist groups created paintings and portraits in favour of or against the cultural revolution and its leaders.

In the present term paper, these artistic counter poles of the Cultural Revolution are to be analysed with the aim of showing how art was created and used, as a propaganda stunt, or treated with hostility in favour of the Cultural Revolution in China. Thus, the author of this term paper starts to introduce the subject with the presentation of the chronological sequence of the cultural revolution. The main focus, however, lies on research questions such as: Who were the influential artists or artist groups of the Cultural Revolution? How did their works of art influence Chinese politics and the population during the Cultural Revolution? Which artist or groups of artists supported the Cultural Revolution and who was against it? How were artistic supporters and opponents of the Cultural Revolution treated? In the end of the present term paper, the thesis that only pro-governmental artists and paintings in favour of the cultural revolution were tolerated by leaders of the government and members of the revolution, is either proved or disproved.

In order to gain the most appropriate insights into this topic and to answer the research questions as accurately as possible, the method of qualitative research strategy is to be used. Therefore, a theoretical analysis, namely the selection and discussion of literature-based and descriptive material in from of essays, journal articles as well as monographs and anthologies provide a basis for this research. Moreover, important and popular Chinese artworks, which were created during the cultural revolution, serve as illustrations and will be analyzed and discussed in the corresponding context. Therefore, great emphasis will be placed in the analysis of the artist's choice of colours and its symbolism, the setting as well as the portrayed persons in the paintings. In the end, each analysis also gives an interpretation of the intention of the artist or groups of artists in order to draw a map of how they handle the incidents of the cultural revolution.

2. Historical background

First of all, it is important to present a chronological sequence of the cultural revolution and its events, in order to analyse Chinese art work that deals with the revolution. After that the intention of the artist, the characteristics, message or criticism of paintings, created during that time, can much more easily be identified and classified.

Before starting with the Cultural Revolution itself, focus has to be drawn on a wider issue, in order to get a deeper insight in the whole situation of that time. This also helps to understand the reasons how the Cultural Revolution started and why it achieved such a great power. Thus, this point of the term paper starts with the Great Leap Forward (Dayuejin [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]) in 1958, which was the outcome of Mao Zedong's predominance and absolute authority in China (Chan 2001, 15).

2.1 The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward resulted after the first five-year plan1 from 1953 until 1957 (Spence 2001, 677). With the aim of inspecting the infantry and promoting the Great Leap Forward, Mao spent almost ten months travelling around the country (Chan 2001, 15). His desire was it to expedite China's development as fast as possible (a.a.O.). In order to keep up with western countries and to boost economy as well as agriculture rapidly, especially in the countryside, the Chinese Communist Party primarily focused on three red banners (sanmian hongqi [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]), which were social development, the Great Leap Forward and the establishment of people's communes (renmin gongshe [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]) (Stahl 2014, 200).

The essential changes caused by the Great Leap Forward, due to residential-, water channel-, road-, and dam constructions as well as large-scale land reclamations, led to a significant interference in the family life of Chinese farmers (a.a.O.). The aim of the Chinese Communist Party was to establish people's communes and thus, to destroy family values and -cohesion, in order to enhance the productivity of the workers living in the countryside (a.a.O., 201).

Moreover, everyday items were now determined to be community property (a.a.O.), private plots were abrogated and from now on organized and instructed by people's communes (Spence 2001, 682). Public institutions, like retirement homes, nursery schools, public bathrooms, schools and many more were also managed by the communes and its members (a.a.O., 683). This enormous infringement of privacy was used to enhance the socialist consciousness in the country (Stahl 2014, 201) and emulated the Soviet model of communism (Chan 2001, 16). The following quote shows the situation at that time in an embellished way:

Die Menschen sind dazu übergegangen, sich nach militärischen Richtlinien selbst zu organisieren, mit Kampfbereitschaft zu arbeiten und ein Leben im Kollektiv zu führen; dadurch wurde das politische Bewußtsein der 500 Millionen Bauern weiter geschärft. Gemeinschaftskantinen, Kindergärten, Nähgruppen, Friseurgeschäfte, öffentliche Bäder, Altenheime, Landwirtschaftsschulen und Schulen für >>rote Fachleute<< leiten die Bauern zu einem glücklichen Leben im Kollektiv an und fördern bei den bäuerlichen Massen kollektivistische Ideen. Unter den gegenwärtigen Umständen stellt die Errichtung von Volkskommunen, in denen Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Viehzucht, Fischzucht und Nebenbeschäftigung getrieben werden und denen Industrie (der Arbeiter), Landwirtschaft (der Bauer), Austausch (der Händler), Kultur und Bildung (der Student) und Militärbelange (der Milizionär) verschmelzen, die grundlegende Politik dar, um die Bauern zum beschleunigten Aufbau des Sozialismus und seiner vorzeitigen Vollendung und damit zum schrittweisen Vollzug des Übergangs zum Kommunismus anzuleiten (Spence 2001, 682-683).

However, the communist policies of expropriation and collectivisation led not to the expected results of boosting agricultural yields, instead of suppressing the individual and giving falsified information about the real farm incomes (Stahl 2014, 201). According to Spence (2001, 684), the figures of the agricultural production in 1958 had to be adjusted, namely from 375 million tons to actual 215 to 250 million tons.

The disguising production figures on the one hand, and the break out of the Great Chinese Famine, due to bad harvest and drought, on the other hand, made the situation even worse (Stahl 2014, 201). The Great Chinese Famine, depicts the world's most disastrous famine and is unique in world history (Gooch 2016, 140); combined with the consequences of the Great Leap Forward, it caused about 300 million deaths (Gooch 2016, 140; Stahl 2014, 201).

However, after the escalated conflict with the Soviet Union, which decided to stop all technical and economical support in China2, the current crisis in 1960, became significantly more difficult (Stahl 2014, 201). This conflict emerged because of the increasing predominance of China in the socialist camp (Stahl 2014, 201). Only in 1961, Mao and his supporters accepted the Great Leap Forward to be failed and finally cancelled it (a.a.O.). In summary, the policy of the Great Leap Forward and its disastrous consequences for the Chinese society, depicts the characteristic starting position of the following class struggle in the Cultural Revolution.

2.2 The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

After the Hundred Flowers Campaign (fanyouyundong [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten])3 and the failure of the Great Leap Forward, criticism concerning Mao's governance was voiced by several party and state leaders (Spence 2001, 702). Among them were defence minister Peng Dehuai, state president Liu Shaoqi, general secretary Deng Xiaoping and prime minister Zhou Enlai (a.a.O.). Faced with this growing criticism, Mao feared his power influence to dwindle and hence, he first replaced Peng Dehuai with Lin Biao, and then he and his supporters4 started to enhance the so called Maoism (Mao Zedongzhuyi [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten])5. The introduction of the cultural revolution in 1965 should also, on the one hand, eliminate Mao's opponents and destroy the old leadership on the other hand (Stahl 2014, 205).

In order to back the project of the Chinese cultural revolution and to enhance Maoism, Lin Biao first created a collection of apothegms of Mao's thoughts, essays and speeches in a little red book (yulu [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]), also called the Mao bible, which had to be studied by millions of soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army and later also by students (Spence 2001, 702). These two groups of people presented the main pillars of the revolution, whereby the students were called Red Guards (chiweidui [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]), after radical advocators distributed red armbands among them, in order to show the revolutionary overthrow (Spence 2001, 712-713; Stahl 2014, 203). The reason why the leaders of the cultural revolution wanted to address especially young people, mostly students, to be the driving force of the revolution, was because many of them were deeply dissatisfied with the current school system, policy and were angry about their parents who still had contact with members of the Guomindang [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]6 and to capitalist landowners (Spence 2001, 712). Therefore, the Red Guards were seen as '"reliable successors to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat"' (Ahmad 1967, 41) as well as the revolutionary '"shock forces"' (a.a.O., 42). These red student soldiers were, in fact, also responsible for the changes of street-, shop-, and school names into names with revolutionary connotations and associations in cities such as Beijing (a.a.O.). Moreover, the Red Guards did not allow hair dressers to cut eccentric hairstyles and tailors had no permission to make decadent clothes (a.a.O.). As later described, industrial workers also played an important role in the cultural revolution and revolved against counter-revolutionaries and the bourgeois (Stahl 2014, 204). Furthermore, Lin Biao also started a mass campaign to promote Chinese patriotism, which focused on the brave young soldier Lei Feng, who gave his life for the country (Spence 2001, 704). Lei Feng's diary, which described his tireless and outstanding love for China, the revolution and chairman Mao, was therefore also determined to be a compulsory reading at schools and used to enhance Maoism and the revolutionary thoughts through the whole county (a.a.O.).

In order to justify the cultural revolution, Mao strongly emphasized his suspicion that there is a black line which counteracts the Chinese Communist Party and socialism, and this hostile line must be combated with strong will (Stahl 2014, 203). In this course of events, great importance was attached on the fight against "China's 'Four Types'" (Su 2011, 253) which included counter-revolutionaries, rich peasants, landlords, as well as bad elements (a.a.O.). According to Ahmad (1967, 13), Mao's aim was "not only to root out "revisionism" from China and from the Communist Party of China (CCP) but also to create conditions which would make the emergence of "revisionism'"' impossible in the future." Ahmad (a.a.O.) also claims that China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was highly controlled and carefully prepared by Mao. Hence, it was not a spontaneous act, proven by the calculated and goal-orientated mass media produced during that time, in favour of the cultural revolution (a.a.O.).

Moreover, with the aim of giving the revolution much more power and to instigate the Red Guards to revolt and fight against the black line and its class enemies, Mao hold revolutionary speeches in front of them at the Tiananmen Square (Tian'anmen Guangchang [Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten]) in Beijing in August 1966 (Stahl 2014, 203). This was the starting point of the revolts against anything that just seemed reactionary (a.a.O., 204). Soon the cultural revolution was extended to all sectors of society, this in turn means that the conflicts spread to all country-wide institutions, such as factories and authorities (a.a.O.). In many cases, these conflicts began due to accusations or suspicions of bourgeois decadence or reactionary stance, made by neighbours and working colleagues (Stahl 2014, 204; Su 2011, 253). However, the whole situation escalated because of collective killings by the Red Guards, which forcible entered houses, searched for reactionary items, destroyed them and killed fellow citizens (Stahl 2014, 204). All these terrible devastations of old buildings, temples and other objects, led to the closing of schools and universities as well as the prosecution of teachers and parents of frustrated members of the Red Guards (Spence 2001, 714). This step was just taken to destroy old habits and customs, the old culture and way of thinking, the existence of the bourgeois and revisionist concepts of literature (Spence 2001, 714; Ahmad 1967, 33). Countless intellectuals who were accused of having a reactionary thoughts, were degraded or killed at public places or died as a result of their injuries (Spence 2001, 715). In 1966, several hostile groups of red -and working guards made the entire city of Shanghai collapse; they demanded higher wages and better working conditions, back pay as well as permanent employment (Spence 2001, 718). According to Stahl (2014, 205), revolting groups of Red Guards overthrew the government apparatus and several politicians lost their office or went to prison.

However, as soon as China stood before a civil war, Mao and his supporters decided to demobilize the Red Guards with help of the People's Liberation Army (a.a.O.). This in turn means that the Cultural Revolution ended in 1969, with the result that Mao returned to power and all his opponents were eliminated (a.a.O.).


1 For further discussion about the first five-year plan see Spence 2001, 641-675

2 After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, there was a huge dependence on support of the Soviet Union, regarding building of communication systems, architecture, town planning, education, art and literature as well as energy supply (Spence 2001, 688-689)

3 For further discussion about the Hundred Flowers Campaign see Stahl 2014, 197-199

4 The Gang of Four: Mao's wife Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, Wang Hongwen; leading figures of the Cultural Revolution

5 Communist political tendency or movement

6 For more discussion about the Guomindang see Stahl 2014, 190-192

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Artistic Counter Poles of the Cultural Revolution. How was Art created and used in favour of or against the Cultural Revolution in China?
University of Würzburg
Modernes Chinesisch
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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1170 KB
China, Cultural revolution, Kulturrevolution, Kunst, Art, Artistic counter poles, propaganda, communism
Quote paper
Andrea Roth (Author), 2017, Artistic Counter Poles of the Cultural Revolution. How was Art created and used in favour of or against the Cultural Revolution in China?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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